Berene Sauls doesn’t walk. She power-walks. She is at work, and it’s not by moving slowly that she had worked her way up from au pair to brilliant winemaker before she turned 35.
Her very first batch of Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir earned her a near-perfect score from several Masters of Wine. It also earned her the words “next South African pinot noir icon” by renowned Master of Wine Greg Sherwood.
Her wine is enjoyed in high-end restaurants from South Africa to Britain, the United States and Japan. She can charge almost R500 per bottle.
But the story of her life after school started at a much humbler place. She arrived at Hamilton Russell Vineyards in Hermanus at the age of 19.
“I came here fresh out of matric, as au pair to Anthony Hamilton Russell’s children.” It lasted only a month as “I was a bit militaristic,” she explains.
Anthony suggested the admin office and the move sparked her first ever interest in wine: wanting to know why people would spend so much money on it?
“It was Anthony’s idea to let me find out by spending some time with the winemaker and viticulturist. I wanted to get my head around this delicate process to which Anthony had referred.”
A remarkable chain of events followed: She decided to do a crash course in Wine Education. The tasting room manager resigned and Berene stepped in. The import-export logistics manager resigned. Berene stepped in.
She took on wine documentation and administration. She got her forklift license (and was the first woman on the estate to do so). She learned to operate the labelling and bottling machines. She spent the 2002 harvest going out with picking teams and doing physical labour in the cellar.
By the end of the season Berene had a 360° view of the wine business, and she continued to build on it in the next number of years.
In 2014 Anthony gave her the start-up cost and cellar space (and invaluable marketing assistance) to establish her own label. She sourced the grapes from a nearby estate and under the patient guidance of current winemaker Emul Ross, had dazzling success with her maiden vintage.
Berene has produced three more vintages since (the last of which is still ageing in barrels) as well as multiple awards:
- She was nominated and shortlisted for the South African Premier Business Awards 2016, hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry.
- She won the category Agri-Processing at the Youth in Agriculture Awards 2017, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
- She won the category Agri-Processing in the Western Cape Top Female Entrepreneur Awards 2017 as well as a Special Minister’s Award for Youth in Agriculture, hosted by the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries.
All in honour of the place she calls home.
DESCENDANT OF SLAVES
Berene chose the name Tesselaarsdal for her business as she hails from this tiny village in the Overberg. “Tesselaarsdal has an interesting history. It is where Johannes Tesselaar (an East India Company settler) died in the 1800s and left his land and his money to the freed slaves on his farm. I am a descendant of those slaves and my mother still lives there.”
She describes the packaging as “Khoe meets French”. Her brother Ricardo designed the crest, based on the family name Sauls. The label depicts the actual mountain range and other landmarks of Tesselaarsdal.
Berene had two tiny figures drawn in on the mountain range to represent and honour her mother and grandmother – women who had inspired her, taught her to work hard and be independent.
“In this way I am honouring my history and continuing my family’s legacy.”
INTO THE FUTURE
Despite her being the mother of two and still maintaining her day job as well, there is much more to come for Berene.
She is currently adding to her courses and qualifications, which already include Business Economics and Import-export Logistics through UNISA.
She will release her first chardonnay next year.
She will soon start developing a vineyard of her own in Tesselaarsdal.
Berene Sauls doesn’t move slowly.